Posted on Friday, February 20th, 2009 by Kevin Kelly
The Oscars are just not a geek’s friend, and you know it as well as I do. Just look at the number of posts and people there are out there bitching that The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, or that a movie like Wall-E just gets relegated to the Best Animated Feature Film category which has only three nominees. But what can you do? The Academy Awards have never really smiled on movies that typically fall under the geek banner.
If it’s science fiction, fantasy, or comic book related, that’s basically a surefire bet that a film isn’t going to net an Oscar in one of the major categories. Of course the big exception to that rule was The Return of the King, which netted 11 Oscars, sweeping every category it was nominated in, including Best Director and Best Picture. I know, you’re shocked it beat out Seabiscuit, but it did. However, people generally consider those wins a huge nod to Peter Jackson for his work on the entire trilogy. Regardless, it was nice to see such a staple of geekdom clean up.
However, both before and since then, it’s been nigh-impossible for geekdom to crack the halls of the Academy. There have been a few token nominations here and there, like Stanley Kubrick being nominated for Best Director for 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968… which was actually the first time a science fiction film had ever been nominated for one of the major Oscars Sadly, yet here we are 40 years later, and Oscar geek snubbing is still the case. In today’s GeekBomb, we’ll be looking at some of the geektastic highlights of the Academy Awards, while silently lamenting the stodgy old school ways of thinking that keep us locked out. As Hollywood geeks from our generation grow up and take over, we will one day rule the Oscars. Until then, we wait. Silently plotting.
When you think about the Academy Awards, you probably remember the categories, or what people call the Big Five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Writing. While there are a lot of other categories that seem to fluctuate from time to time (Best Animated Feature Film was only added in 2001), and of course the Technical Oscars, the Big Five are still the ones that everyone focuses on. I know it’s an honor to be nominated by your peers and to walk away with some awards at all that, but sometimes a filmmaker has to feel like he’s going home with the Honorable Mention green ribbon just for participating, know what I’m saying? For the purposes of this GeekBomb, we’re also focusing on the Big Five, if not just to show how they keep locking us out.
What we’re not going to do is wax poetic about the history of the Oscars and talk about the tidbits of all the different years, mostly because that stuff feels so rehashed every year and it’s been beaten to death. Yes, the Oscars have a long and rich history. Yes, a guy once streaked through the Oscar ceremonies on live television, causing host David Niven to quip “Isn’t it fascinating to think, that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life, is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings!” Nice zinger on the fly, Mr. Niven! Anyhow, the Academy Awards are full of these moments, and if you want to check them out, your best bet is to hit up the American Movie Channel’s most excellent Filmsite, which is chock full of Oscar highlight, history, and commentary. Check that out for the historical trivia and terrific breakdown, but read on for the geek in you.
In the 1940s there were several movies nominated that had various supernatural elements to them, which an outsider might use to peg them into the geek category, but movies like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946 – man is shown a vision of the world without him), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945 – spooky painting keeps a man young and immortal… starring Angela Lansbury!) just don’t feel like they belong in that realm. No, the first time the Academy really recognized films that weren’t period pieces, dramas, war movies, light comedies or romances was probably in 1960, when Psycho was nominated for Best Director for Alfred Hitchcock, and Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh. Which is actually a surprise because the Oscars have historically hated horror movies. Even to this day 1973’s The Exorcist has been the only horror flick nominated for a Best Picture award.
Likewise, the first acknowledgement of science fiction as I said was for Best Director in 1968, for Kubrick’s mind-. Stanley Kubrick had been nominated for Best Director just four years earlier for Dr. Strangelove, which was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Peter Sellers, woot), and Best Adapted Screenplay, but it lost the big ones to My Fair Lady and the screenplay award to Becket. Kubrick would be nominated again in 1971 with the borderline sci-fi (hey, they screw with the dude’s brain through chemicals, good enough for me) A Clockwork Orange, which was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. However, it had zero wins. Interestingly, A Clockwork Orange was only one of two movies that were originally rated X to be nominated for Best Picture. The other was Midnight Cowboy.
Geek History had a big year with the Oscars in 1977. Well, a big year for nominations, anyhow. George Lucas was nominated for Best Director for Star Wars, which also was nominated for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Alec Guiness, while Lucas buddy Steven Spielberg was also nominated for Director for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I always forget that those two movies came out the same year. However, they didn’t net any of the big awards. Star Wars picked up several awards including Best Art Direction, Best Costumes, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Score, and Best Visual Effects, and Close Encounters won Best Cinematography and a Special Achievement Award for Best Sound Effects Editing. Still, Star Wars lost to Annie Hall, and I can’t fault that. Diane Keaton at her best. Although she doesn’t help as well under repeat viewing like Star Wars does.
Spielberg would be back at the Oscars again in 1981 for Raiders of the Lost Ark, which had both Best Picture and Best Director nominations, although it didn’t pick up either, losing to Chariots of Fire and Warren Beatty for Reds. He’d return again the following year with double nominations again for Director and Picture for E.T. – The Extraterrestrial, but once again didn’t get either of those, losing both to Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi . Although he went home empty-handed it did help signify a decade that was fairly nice to geek films with nominations, and a couple of statuettes. The 80s would see Jeff Bridges nominated for Best Actor in Starman in 1984, Don Ameche actually won Best Supporting Actor for Cocoon in 1985, and Sigourney Weaver was nominated for Best Actress in 1986 with Aliens. (Alien had won a Best Visual Effects award in 1979, but wasn’t in the Big Five at all). Big closed out the geek love in the 1980s with a nomination for Best Actor for Tom Hanks in a film that’s all about geek wish fulfilment, especially since he crams his loft with toys once he starts making money, heralding and celebrating what many of our homes probably look like. (He says as he hides his lightsaber in the closet).
The 1990s were a bit all over the map for Oscar and the Geek. While most people will remember it as the year Titanic walked away with almost everything and James Cameron shouted “I’m The King Of The World!” while brandishing his Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, there were also some smaller geekworthy moments. 1990 had Al Pacino nominated for his role as Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy (which I swear isn’t a bad movie). Silence of the Lambs (which isn’t pure geek, but I’m giving it some leeway here… Hannibal rocks) swept the four of the Big Five in 1991 with Director, Picture, Actor and Actress, and Mercedes Ruehl won for Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King, which also saw a Best Actor nomination for Robin Williams. 1993 saw Spielberg get his Oscar due finally, with wins for Director and Picture for Schindler’s List. 1994 was a bit of a banner year, seeing Pulp Fiction nominated for a slew of Big Five awards, and netting Tarantino the Writing Oscar, while Martin Landau won Best Supporting Actor for Ed Wood, while Forrest Gump walked away with the big prizes.
Likewise with 1995, some borderline geek films (with major geek directors) would see nominations and wins with Apollo 13 and The Usual Suspects, while Brad Pitt was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for 12 Monkeys. 1997 was Titanic’s year, although Paul Thomas Anderson broke into the Oscars with nominations for Boogie Nights. 1998 gave us another big Oscar for Spielberg with Best Director for Saving Private Ryan, although he lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love. Sir Ian McKellen was also nominated that year for Best Actor in God and Monsters, which is all about the last days of Frankenstein director James Whale. 1999 closed out the decade with nominations for M. Night Shyamalan and Haley Joel Osment with The Sixth Sense, Spike Jonze and Catherine Keener for Being John Malkovich, and Frank Darabont and Michael Clarke Duncan for The Green Mile, while American Beauty and Sam Mendes won for the two biggies.
The 2000s were also a weird mix for the geek in everyone. When they added the Best Animated Feature Film category in 2001, it was both a blessing and a curse. While it’s nice to see animated movies recognized on such a level, it’s also a smack in the face because it keeps them from landing in the Best Picture category. An Academy voter is more likely to think, “Well, I can give Wall-E Best Animated Feature Film, and that frees up my choice for Best Picture” and so on. Some people thought this would be the year that would see that change, but nothing happened. Oh, and Wall-E had better walk away with that prize. Given the long production time associated with those films as well as the extreme cost, that category normally only has three nominees in it, although strangely enough 2002 had five, with Spirited Away going home with the prize.
Live-action wise, the 2000s saw nominations for Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire, multiple nominations for Peter Jackson and the Rings trilogy, the rise of Russell Crowe with both Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind, more Charlie Kaufman love with Nicolas Cage and Adaptation, and eventual Oscar triumph for the Coens and No Country For Old Men. But if you consider the comic book love that was rebooted with 2002’s Spider-Man, none of the comic book films that came down the pipeline were nominated for anything in the Big Five, which also includes The Matrix from 1999. Sure, there have been multiple nominations and wins for categories like visual effects, because lasers and superpowers will always beat something like Driving Miss Daisy in that department, but where’s the geek love for the other categories? This year highlights that pretty strongly, where I thought The Dark Knight would be nominated at least for Best Picture and Best Director (even though I didn’t think it was superincredifantastic, and certainly not a cinematic revolution) as did just about everyone else. Shows what we know.
So, will the Oscars ever swing towards the Geek? We can only hope so. The Academy had better hope so too, because the rising tides of fanboys and fangirls are prepped to storm the castle if they keep getting shut out. It’s sad that the closest thing we can hope for a Geek best picture win is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which just the thought of actually makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth. Where’s The Wrestler in all those nominations, dammit? Anyhow, I’m not here to complain about the nominees, we’ve all been there, done that. Instead, let’s hope that we the rise of the geek continue with films yet to come. I’d also like to leave you with my favorite Geek Oscar moment: when Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas met onstage to present the Best Director Oscar for 2006’s The Departed, which went to Martin Scorsese. While Lucas’s prequel-itis really failed to score with me, it’s nice to see that he can make fun of himself.
So, until I can find some sort of wormhole and travel to where the image below from The Onion Alternate Universe took place, I’ll keep hope alive. You should too. Until we start planning the revolution.